Many leading politicians hoped to implement sweeping criminal law reform this year. However, hopes that the criminal justice system could be overhauled have been knocked off course by a summer of shootings involving police officers.
An Associated Press report noted moves were afoot involving senior politicians. Republicans including John Cornyn of Texas and Mike Lee from Utah had reportedly joined forces with Democrats to overturn some federal laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s. These were primarily laws enacted during a period when the federal government was taking a tough approach to crime.
They wanted to cut out some mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders as well as giving a greater discretion to judges when sentencing.
The politicians appeared to have reached common ground in a bid to reduce the nation’s prison population.
Back in 1980, there were just 25,000 prisoners housed in federal facilities. Today the figure is more than 200,000.
The AP report said the consensus has been undermined by a pro law and order backlash. It has been a divisive summer with police shootings of African Americans making headlines as well as reprisals against police officers. Police officers were shot dead in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
The tension again increased in September when a police officer shot dead Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The bipartisan effort in Congress encountered strong opposition from some Republicans who said reform would pose an even greater danger to police. Although Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump didn’t comment on the criminal law reform he has called himself the “law-and-order candidate” and referred in lurid terms to a perceived crisis in America.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was described in the AP article as the man who could break the deadlock.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan supports criminal law reform and is considering bipartisan House to cut mandatory sentences and boost rehabilitation programs. It puts him on the same page as President Barack Obama.
Criminal Law Reform in Texas
Interestingly, Texas has pioneered criminal law reforms that have drastically cut the state’s jail population.
In 2014, The Washington Post reported on how Texas is leading the way in criminal law reform. Texas has a reputation for being tough on crime but conservative legislators considered how they could reform to save the state money.
The reforms included specialized drugs courts, revamped parole, and programs to make it easier for former offenders to reintegrate into society. By not reoffending, it would save Texas money and help keep the prison population down.
The number of inmates in Texas prisons rose dramatically during the 1990s and 2000s. It was a time of a war on drugs and rising crime. The population rose from 50,000 in 1990 to about 173,000 in 2010, s staggering 346 percent rise. By 2013 those reforms had reduced the prison population to 168,000 and it has fallen further since.
Texas still has a long way to go to reduce its prison population but the state could be a template for the rest of the country.
If you have been charged with a crime in Texas there’s a high chance you could end up in jail. Contact our experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys at (512) 474-4445.